Diane Orentlicher is a world-renowned authority on human rights law, and war crimes tribunals and will be speaking at Affton High School this Friday. After the talk, Orentlicher will sign copies of her new book Some Kind of Justice. The ICTY’s Effect in Bosnia and Serbia.
Fontbonne University’s Bosnian Memory Project sponsors the presentation. It has already collected oral histories from over 120 survivors (more than 360 hours of recordings).
“With over 60,000 Bosnians in our city, it is the largest Bosnian community other than Bosnia,” Benjamin Moore, project director and associate professor of English at Fontbonne, said.
Moore was able to hire Adna Karmehic-Oates, associate director, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He says that she can expand her work because of her language skills, and Ph.D. in Bosnian Studies. She put together the Diane Orentlicher event.
Orentlicher, a professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law will speak at Affton High School. Affton High School is partnered with the Bosnian Memory Project, Oakville, and Mehlville to offer a class on Bosnian American Studies. Moore was kind enough to give us some insight.
Why is it so important to keep a record of the experiences of survivors?
We are documenting stories of people who survived atrocities and have remained intact. That is the source of hope.
What made the Bosnian genocide so different from other atrocities in history?
It is unique because the entire world knew about it. Journalists documented it as it happened. It is a failure by other countries to intervene in the matter. [ He stops, then resumes speaking, now with slow deliberation. This was also in Europe, a highly educated society. This is contrary to what we often associate with ethnic violence and genocide. This suggests that genocide may occur in places we might not expect.
Are there any misperceptions in the oral histories?
The genocide in Bosnia was caused by long-standing ethnic hatreds. According to our interviews, nothing could be further from reality. Ethnic cooperation has been a tradition for a long time. People have gone to school together, started businesses together, and intermarried. Leaders sought to create and exploit ethnic hatreds. This was a very top-down movement. They were not just trying to create new hatreds, but rather digging up existing ones to make themselves more politically powerful.
Do you see any commonalities in the reasons that some people are resilient?
Family loyalty is key to their survival and, subsequently, their ability to thrive once they have settled in the U.S. Many people who were born in the 1960s or earlier found meaning in their grandchildren and children. It’s important to remember how important it is for families to stay together when we talk about refugees in the U.S.
What are some of the lesser-known losses that haunt survivors?
They have lost their country. They lost their country. It is easy to forget just how important this is. A person who is expelled forcibly from a country loses their status, connections, relationships, as well as identity. Although we can see that people are still whole, the identity they have lost cannot be completely recovered. While it is possible to create new identities, the identity that was lost can’t be recreated.
Do you feel it is better to live in nostalgia or to take it away?
It is a great question. We see people having an ongoing dialogue with their past and present. They remember their lives, their relationships, and their values and use those to guide them in the future. This is why it is important to preserve memory. I don’t just mean the memory of atrocities. Young Bosnians are often unable to access the same things their parents had before the war. This is one of the problems they face. It is difficult for parents to talk about the war, or to find a way to do so.
Children need to understand their parents’ world.
It can give you a sense that you are part of a family’s history.
What cultural treasures have been lost that are almost impossible to reproduce?
They had close friendships with people from different ethnicities. Before the war, you could celebrate Christmas if your religion was Muslim. Ramadan could be celebrated if your faith was Christian. This was how Bosnian life was. To reconcile this now, will require a lot of trust.
Do you have any Serbian oral histories in your project?
Yes. Yes. There are many. One narrative cannot cover everything.
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